SCBWI Bologna 2012 SCBWI Chief Operating Officer Interview: Sara Rutenberg

Sara at the grave of Louisa May Alcott, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

By Caryn Caldwell for SCBWI Bologna 2012
at Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Sara Rutenberg is the Chief Operating Officer of SCBWI as well as being responsible for the National Conferences and legal matters.

Prior to SCBWI, Sara spent 25 years as a business affairs executive in the entertainment industry working for such companies as Universal Television, Fremantle and National Lampoon.

Prior to becoming an attorney, Sara was a preschool and elementary school teacher in the Los Angeles area. She is an avid and obsessive speed reader as are her adult children, Ari, 29, and Meg, 23. Her husband Peter is a Grammy winning classical conductor, composer and producer.

You were an entertainment attorney for 30 years before joining the SCBWI team. How did you become involved in the world of children’s books?

I was a teacher before I became a lawyer and always loved children’s books. In fact, my dream was to own a children’s bookstore! Lin Oliver and I met at Universal Television and kept in touch, and I did some legal work for SCBWI. I worked at the conferences in the bookstore.

Several years ago, when I felt I needed a change, the conference coordinator position became open and Lin, Steve Mooser, and I decided it would be good to bring me inhouse for the legal work and to do the conferences.

What do you most enjoy about working with the SCBWI?

The people and the books! I get to talk to the most amazing authors and illustrators — a dream come true. And the employees and regional advisors are so extraordinary. I feel lucky every day.

Front L-R:
Brandon Clarke, Kim Turrisi, Liz Brown, Lin Oliver, Stephen Mooser;
Back L-R:
Gee Cee Addison, Chelsea Mooser, Sara Rutenberg, Sarah Baker, Jeff Miller

You are surrounded by writers and illustrators; do you write and/or illustrate books yourself?

Unfortunately, I have no ability in either of those areas!

How has the SCBWI changed over the years? How do you see it changing in the future?

It has and will continue to grow, both in the types of things we do and the membership. I see us getting even more involved with various literary organizations — doing more outreach into the community.

Top: Sara Rutenberg, Bottom: Liz Brown, Chelsea Mooser, Sarah Baker

What is your view on the rise of new media?

Having been through this in the entertainment industry, it was inevitable. We have to embrace change and use it to improve literacy.

How do you see the growth of e-books and self-publishing affecting publishing?

My concerns are actually more about the creators themselves. I have two concerns — protecting creative rights and making sure that authors don’t get taken advantage of by the vanity presses.

The other issue in self-publishing is the lack of editorial review, which often leads to lower quality books. Publishers are certainly jumping into the fray in both areas.

As the author of the SCBWI Bulletin’s “Legally Speaking” column, you provide legal advice to writers and illustrators. How do you choose which topics to cover for each issue?

They often come from our members. I also try to ensure I am keeping them up-to-date on any litigation or hot topics that could affect them.

As the SCBWI’s conference coordinator, what advice do you have for other conference planners?

Negotiate the hell out of the contract with the venue! Make sure you are very clear in what the conference is and is not.

In what ways do you feel conferences are advantageous for writers and illustrators? Do you have any tips for conference attendees?

I think it’s all about community and not feeling as if you are alone! Of course, the keynote speakers are inspirational, and the workshops and intensives provide very practical and useful knowledge.

We have so many success stories about people who came to our conferences as novices and now are award-winning writers and illustrators, such as Ruta Septys and John Rocco, among many.

As for attendees, again, know you are not alone — everyone was once a beginner!

As a parent of grown children, you must have read many books together over the years. Do you have any particular favorites?

We read together all the time, and there are many. My son and husband were reading A Wrinkle In Time when I was pregnant with my daughter, and we basically named her after Meg in the book.

Of course we read a great deal of Dr. Seuss and all of the classics — Goodnight Moon, Phantom Tollbooth, Charlotte’s Web, The Giver. They both loved the George and Martha series, all of the Beverly Cleary books, and of course, Judy Blume.

My own favorites growing up also included everything by Edward Eager and Noel Streatfeld, A Little Princess and The Secret Garden, All of A Kind Family, Eleanor Estes Books and many more!

Sara and her husband, Peter Rutenberg

Cynsational Notes

Caryn Caldwell has been crafting stories since childhood (when she regularly rescued her Barbies from all types of imagined peril), through her teen years (when she wrote depressing poetry for fun), and into adulthood (when she discovered that writing books was a lot more enjoyable than housework).

She has been an English teacher, librarian, and white water rafting guide, and is currently a stay-at-home mom to a toddler who is kind enough to nap every afternoon so she can write. She lives in the southwestern U.S.

The SCBWI Bologna 2012 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Showcase in conjunction with Cynsations. To find out more, visit the SCBWI Bologna Showcase Special thanks to Angela Cerrito for coordinating this series with SCBWI Bologna and Cynsations.

8 thoughts on “SCBWI Bologna 2012 SCBWI Chief Operating Officer Interview: Sara Rutenberg

  1. Thanks for this great interview, Caryn and Sara (and Cyn for posting.) Love learning about all the different people who make up our kidlit field!

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